The state's plan for putting $438 million from Congress toward recovery from last year's historic flooding has won approval from the federal agency that administers the money.
Louisiana received word Thursday night that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development signed off on a detailed "action plan" that was needed before the state could draw down the money.
The state had hoped that HUD would agree to the proposal, which will largely go toward establishing homeowner rebuilding programs, by early March.
"We know we still have a long way to go, but this is reassuring for families and businesses who are ready to rebuild their homes," Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement. "We are extremely grateful to HUD for such a quick review of the action plan and their continued assistance."
It's possible that as few as 5,000 homeowners will benefit from the first round of funding the state received, but officials say that the programs will extend to more people as additional money comes in. Priority in the initial round will go to the poor and elderly or disabled.
Because the state still needs the federal line of credit to be authorized, it could still be several weeks before programs begin repairing or replacing homes damaged by catastrophic flooding across south Louisiana in August and north Louisiana in the Spring.
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Homeowners who have major or severe damage; meet federal low to moderate income requirements; live outside the flood hazard zones; didn't have flood insurance and those with a household member who is elderly or disabled will be the first priority.
The plan approved by HUD outlines three programs for homeowners: a state-run construction program, a program that allows homeowners to select their own contractors that the state pays and a reimbursement program for homeowners who have already had work done.
The action plan's approval comes nearly a month ahead of anticipated schedule. If things continue to move at the quicker pace, programs could be up and running by April.
The action plan covers the funds that Congress appropriated to Louisiana in a September stop-gap spending measure. The state secured another round of $1.2 billion in aid in December. The state will submit the action plan for that tranche of money this month, after satisfying federal requirements on public comment periods.
That money will largely go toward expanding homeowner programs to those who won't qualify in the initial phase.
Edwards is seeking another $2 billion from the federal government to further expand recovery programs.
"Louisiana is still in need of additional assistance, and we will continue to work with the administration and congressional delegation to make it happen," Edwards said.
Several leaders had expressed frustration over the pace of the federal funds making their way to the state.
In its approval letter, HUD commended the state for its "commitment to increasing the speed of recovery."
"This is evidenced by the historically fast action plan submission," HUD General Deputy Assistant Secretary Clifford Taffet writes.
The letter also highlights the state's unmet needs for renters and others affected by the floods.
"The department acknowledges the state's intention with this initial allocation of funding is to provide the most immediate assistance to homeowners; however there is a concern that the needs of renters and individuals experiencing homelessness may remain unaddressed," Taffet wrote in the letter.
About $100 million in the plan for the next round of funding will go toward rental and homelessness prevention programs, on top of the $938 million set aside for the homeowner rebuilding programs to be branched out.